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Huell Howser Memorial Service: 'Sunset Salute' Was A Tribute To 'A Great Californian'

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HUELL HOWSER MEMORIAL SERVICE
Hundreds gathered at Griffith Observatory to remember Huell Howser. | Getty Images

Bathed in the rays of a Los Angeles sunset, hundreds of fans gathered near Griffith Observatory Tuesday to pay tribute to a man they believed was truly "California's Gold."

The hour-long public sunset memorial on Mount Hollywood was held to honor Huell Howser, the folksy travel host who died on Jan. 7 after decades of highlighting California's people and landmarks.

"Huell you are amaaaaaazing," proclaimed pop-culture humorist Charles Phoenix, using one of the host's favorite terms as he shouted up into the sky during the tribute. "Thank you, Huell, for sharing the stories and the glories of the greatest state in the country like nobody else."

The 67-year-old Tennessee native had been battling cancer for the last two years and died at his home in Palm Springs. The memorial, organized by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, was held just a few miles away from the home he kept in Los Angeles off Rossmore Avenue.

"This is a tribute to a great Californian and a great Angeleno," LaBonge said. "I can't think of any other public figure who had the kind of connection to the people like Huell did."

LaBonge, who was sworn in to office by Howser in 2001, said while his longtime friend never wanted a "big to-do," Los Angeles just couldn't let it go.

"I couldn't let the day pass without reflecting on a very special friend of mine," LaBonge said. "So many people loved this man and I think the city had to do this."

Other friends and notable fans at the tribute included actress Anne-Marie Johnson and Pink's Hot Dog owner Gloria Pink, who grabbed the "Huell Dawg" sign off the eatery's wall for the event. The two chili cheese hot dogs -- wrapped in one bun -- is one of the top five best selling hot dogs at Pink's, she said.

Howser moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to become a reporter for KCBS Channel 2). He later gained fame with his KCET (Channel 28) California-focused travel shows, namely "California's Gold," which is the longest running series about California ever produced.

He hosted more than 2,000 television episodes, also including "Visiting with Huell Howser," "Road Trip with Huell Howser" and other shows that covered small mom-and-pops to historic landmarks and everything in between.

"Before there was Facebook, before there was YouTube and even before there was Yahoo! there was Huell Howser. He was the first social media," said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. "His sense of place -- his love and joy -- was infectious and touched us all."

Burbank resident Robert DaGasta, who was also among fans at the event, has been distributing photographic tribute pages to some of the Los Angeles-area spots that Howser had highlighted, so that fans could express their appreciation. DaGasta plans to compile the pages for a book.

Others have been sending suggestions to LaBonge for ways to honor Howser ranging from erecting a statue to naming a park or high school after him.

"I got calls from mayors and townspeople from throughout California to express love and appreciation about this great man, so in the weeks and months ahead appropriate ideas may come to fruition so the next generation can learn how important Huell Howser was to California," LaBonge said.

The councilman added, however, that it's too early to discuss any serious proposals, though he did quip that a Huell Howser High School should be represented by a team called "The Historians" with a little Howser mascot.

To top off the light-hearted tribute that was full of Huellisms and episode recaps, a version of "California Here I Come" as sung by Howser himself blasted through the speakers, prompting a singalong at the steps of the Griffith Observatory led by LaBonge.

"Think of Huell not just this day, but every day," LaBonge said to conclude an encore of the song. "God bless, Huell."

mariecar.mendoza@dailynews.com

818-713-3623

twitter.com/LADNMarMendoza ___

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